Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a detective with the Detroit Police Department, and has been working undercover trying to bust a gang of thieves, which explains why today he finds himself in the back of a truck carrying thousands of packs of stolen cigarettes, bluffing his way through a deal with one of the criminals. Unfortunately, the cops show up and cause the driver to take off at high speed, smashing into cars and trying to force the police vehicles off the road, as all the while Axel is flung around in the back - but he's used to not playing by the rules.
As it's the law to point out whenever Beverly Hills Cop is mentioned, Sylvester Stallone was the original star but walked out just before shooting began after creative differences - he wanted to tinker with the script, whereas director Martin Brest wanted as little hassle in that department as possible, probably because it had suffered years of rewrites. Which is odd in itself, as if you paid attention to the plot, you'd see it was the most basic cop thriller arrangement possible, hardly the stuff of writers sweating out the finer details into the small hours.
Lucky for everyone involved then that Murphy was hired shortly after, for he proved the project's salvation, encouraged by Brest to improvise his way through scenes and managing to dredge up actual laughs from situations that were the stuff of a million cop shows which were comedy lead rather than comedy gold. The movie made Murphy a megastar, trading on an image of rebellion even though he was playing a representative of law and order, but then the maverick cop was not exactly a fresh concept even in 1984, and the manner in which Axel tackles his latest case is demonstrated to be placing his job in jeopardy.
If you've forgotten why this Detroit policeman winds up in Beverly Hills, it's because one of his old friends (James Russo) visits him again after spending time there in dodgy activities, and is promptly murdered by some hoods for taking some bonds with him. Axel is none too pleased, and heads off for his pal's last place of employment, which seems to be connected with welathy art dealer Maitland (Steven Berkoff, briefly the face of icy villainy in Hollywood movies), also getting the chance to meet up with childhood friend Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher) who assists. You won't really remember her, though, as it's two local cops Axel really sparks off.
They were played by John Ashton and Judge Reinhold, initially sent to follow Axel but eventually won over by his infectious charm and teaming up with him by the end. This trio were great together, something Brest recognised as he takes every opportunity to place them in scenes with each other, but we were in no doubt who the real star of the show was. Another thing we were in no doubt of was that it was very clever indeed to swear, as often in place of wit, whether out of desperation or a consequence of coming up with lines on the spot, this film made strong language very fashionable in movies right up to the present day. This made it even more attractive to the kids, who may have been too young to see it at cinemas, but being the dawning of the video age were able to watch it at home, offering Murphy a loyal fanbase for decades after. You can't stress enough how welcome he was in this at the time, and if Beverly Hills Cop has faded since its multitude of imitators, blockbusters have a lot to thank it for. Music by Harold Faltermeyer, including that unforgettable synth theme.